1 Dec 2001 - Santiago, Chile
My trip to Chile began in the capital, Santiago. For me it was a great venture, for my old uni buddy, Adam it was just another foreign trip. This was the first time I had seen him since we were in Thailand with the other Chamberlain, Hywel and Jint in August 2000. Since then Adam had been bumming around the world - good luck to him, how many people can say they've taken so long off to travel the world?
We got a bus to the city (though a taxi was only about £10) and immediately sought out a respectable youth hostel. Like many YHA Hostelling International venues this one proved cheap and gave a good standard of accommodation and the location was excellent. The cost was about £5 per night and was the cheapest of the quality budget hostels but you could easily pay more and get less. At the time of writing, if you are on tight budget this country is very do-able and won't involve a puritan lifestyle. This was to be our base for now. Adam being the experienced traveller came prepared with a lengthy itinerary which was just as well because although I had read the lonely planet's guide to Chile I was still unsure where to start. We decided that the first destination would be an expedition into Patagonia. This would require an internal flight down to Punto Arenas so our first job after arriving was to arrange another flight.
This we did at an independent travel agent and received service second to none - talk about going the extra mile! Here wasn't the typical air-head travel sales agent you normally get in the UK. This bloke obviously knew his country well and could speak very good English. The relationship progressed past the usual "to go here costs this much, this one's slightly more..." type of blah. Actual conversation was struck while the rest of the staff attempted to join in with our man acting as translator - very friendly people. After receiving a quote for a flight with Lan Chile we left for a little scout around to make sure the price we were being quoted was a good deal - after all, why were they so friendly? After checking the Lan Chile web site it turned out that we were being quoted a fare lower than Lan Chile were offering directly. Great, we swept our earlier cynicism aside and returned to the agent!
Getting the deal though wasn't simple. We were due to depart the following morning so needed the tickets immediately. The agent drove us in his own car through Santiago giving us an unbargained for tour. This gave us a good chance to observe the everyday goings on of normal Santiagans while one of the agents kept us busy with lots of interesting chat. As this person's English wasn't very good it got a little difficult at times but thankfully Adam had picked up a bit of Spanish and could muddle though.
Our eventual destination was a shopping mall. The driver waited in the car while the assistant took us in to the booking shop. This was a Lan Chile shop so we had to wait in line to be served before we could buy our tickets. Instead of the expected 10 minutes it took over an hour. When we eventually got back to the car the driver must have been wondering what had happened but he still had a great big smile on his face. As it was now quite late we tried our luck and asked if we could be driven back into central Santiago which they agreed to. The profit they made on this deal must have been very little and the amount of time they put into it seems quite disproportional. Customer service to the extreme!
By now we were hungry so we chose a plush looking steak house near the youth hostel. Between the two of us we had a good sized portion of shellfish each, 500 grams of steak for me (a whole pound!) and 250 grams for little Adam. Side plates of salad, rice and chips and two bottles of the best Chilean wine. This came to the unrealistic price of £23 between us - absolutely fantastic! The South Americans really do like their meat. From observing the other diners I noticed that a lot of them only ordered a plate of meat. No vegetables or side dish but just meat. A cardiac specialist need never be out of work in this country. And so on to bed with a heavy stomach ready for the following day's 6AM start.
Chile - Santiago, You can't beat a bit of bully!
Definitely a photo for the pale faced, skinny vegetarians! Half a pound of steak gone and only a half more to go. Actually, I couldn't finish it - the only time I haven't been able to eat a whole steak. Once the jaw ache set in, eating simply for greed was no longer an option.